Is pro-golf eating itself? 

Spare a thought for Manchester United’s Erik ten Hag. He’s got a fairly crummy, injury-hit team who appear to have given up running (apart from Alejandro Garnacho who is still young enough to think that it’s OK to belt down the left wing and then deposit the ball somewhere, though not in goal). His new owner is pictured in the stands with his head in his hands and he has to cope with the choleric visage of his predecessor Sir Alex Ferguson watching on with an expression of scarcely controlled contempt, while two former United godfathers, Gary Neville and Roy Keane, fulminate in the Sky commentary box about how crap

How sport helped shape the British character

Faith in state planning was central to Harold Wilson’s pledge to modernise Britain. It was his rhetorical vision of a country guided by strategic foresight and ‘forged in the white heat of technology’ that helped him win the 1964 election. But Wilson also displayed the same attachment to planning in his personal life. Back in 1934 he joined the Port Sunlight tennis club, not because he was interested in the sport but because he felt it would provide the right environment to approach one of its young female members, a shorthand-typist called Gladys Baldwin. Unlike his ‘white heat’ agenda, the policy worked. After a lengthy courtship, during which Gladys dropped

Will the US catch the birdie at the Ryder Cup? 

At last the Ryder Cup is here – well, in Rome – and with it Europe’s biennial chance to stick it to the Americans in a sport that matters in a format that we can all relate to. Even if you regard golfers as extremely well-off people largely determined to make themselves better off, the frenzied emotions and belting patriotism of the Ryder Cup should be enough to challenge even the most surly of gloomsters. And while Americans have to seek solace and comfort in the company of other Americans, it takes something special and inspiring when an Irishman can join forces with a Swede and be cheered on by

Why Saudi Arabia is trying to take over the world of golf

Golf came to Saudi Arabia in the 1930s. American expats, working in the nascent oil industry, brought their clubs with them and made courses in the dunes. They worked out that if you sprayed oil onto a patch of sand and then packed it down, you could make a vaguely puttable surface. ‘Occasionally, a herd of camels ambles over our greens,’ one engineer wrote for Aramco Weekly. ‘The terms “fairway” and “rough” employ a distinction that is theoretical only.’ Today, Saudi Arabia wants to take over the sport. The kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is trying to poach the

Pep and Klopp, kings of England

It’s a game for the ages all right, City against Liverpool on Sunday as the Premier League moves to its most exciting climax in years: two magnificent managers, two awe-inspiring collections of players. Both teams are so far in front that the rest are nowhere. There’s more to come as they face each other the following weekend at Wembley in the FA Cup. And both are involved in Champions League quarter-finals. The money must be a help, but still we are blessed to have Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp here, both at the height of their powers. But for how much longer? Anyone who loves football will be dreading the

Mason Greenwood and football’s obsession with prodigies

Well, there’s a surprise: Nike have cancelled their sponsorship of the Manchester United and England footballer Mason Greenwood, who is engulfed by a series of very unpleasant allegations involving an 18-year-old girl. There’s a lot that can’t be discussed about this distressing saga but one aspect that’s worth looking at is the fact that Greenwood, like so many prodigies, was snapped up by a Premier League club at an extraordinarily young age, in his case just six. But in its obsession with signing up talent that has only just learned to walk, is football missing a trick? How many hidden gems are there in the lower leagues who were passed

England’s shameful betrayal of Pakistan

Any English person with a love of cricket knows life has its ups and downs. But until now we have had no need to feel truly ashamed. The decision by England to scrap a mini-tour of Pakistan feels like one of those watershed moments from which any reputation for fair play will never recover. The men’s tour would have been four or five days at most, to play a couple of T20s. It’s hardly a trek across the Antarctic. And this against Pakistan, a country which, more than any, needs international cricket at home. And a country which bailed England out last year, when Britain was in the grip of

Why is the Ryder Cup so cringe?

And so to Whistling Straits, a venue with a name so ridiculous it could only be something to do with golf. The Ryder Cup is on us again, that biennial experiment to discover which overweight American is loudest at shouting ‘get in the hole!’ Golf shouldn’t be about artificial passion. Don’t get me wrong, the game itself is not without merit. For various work reasons I’ve spent a bit of time at professional tournaments, and the players are likeable, down-to earth people from ordinary backgrounds who just happen to be incredibly skilled at hitting a small ball into a small hole that’s far away. They’re as different as could be

Roger Alton

DeChambeau’s the one to watch in the Masters

José Mourinho, it was surprising to read, recently said how relieved he was that the Amazon Prime cameras were out of his hair and he could get back to working in private, the way he likes it. Given that the Spurs documentary programmes, part of the All or Nothing sports series, are long promotional videos for José, made with his consent and, it would appear, absolute collaboration, this was a risible remark. And it turns out erroneous. Far from ending the series, one cameraman continues to work — and was spotted last week at an upmarket bar in Chingford, where Harry Kane and Son Heung-min were relaxing after a training

Bad sports, from the ancient Greeks to the present

Sports history, writes Wray Vamplew, is sometimes ‘sentimental, reactionary and built on the implicit assumption that the sporting past was a better place in which to play games. It wasn’t.’ His own account — the fruit ofa career’s work — is so shapeless that it often reads like the encyclopaedia that he claims he didn’t want to write. The emeritus professor of sports history at the University of Stirling hasn’t managed to assemble his own narrative. But if there is one to be extracted from Games People Played, it’s this: contrary to popular opinion, we may be living in sport’s golden age. Perhaps the best bits of the book are

A window on a fascinatingly weird place: Some Kind of Heaven reviewed

Some Kind of Heaven is a documentary set in The Villages, Florida, which is often described as a ‘Disneyland for retirees’ — it, too, has its own faux-historical town centre — and is the fastest-growing metropolitan area in America. (Current pop: 130,000.) The vibe is, I would say, cruise ship, but with golf. Hell, in other words, unless, that is, I’m going to be left to rot in a nursing home, in which case: I can learn golf! This is a film by Lance Oppenheim, who lived in The Villages for several months. It is a fascinatingly weird place and the film is worth seeing if only to get a

An open letter to my golf club

Dear Mike, Thank you for asking me, along with all the other members, whether I would like to become part of the golf club’s new ‘Equality — Diversity — Inclusion (EDI) Working Group’. The short answer is I would rather spend a couple of hours in the mud, picking up old beer bottles and condoms out of the river which winds though the course, than sit on such a ‘working group’. It is difficult to describe -exactly why I think this venture is a bad idea but I will have a go. Let’s take the words of the title of the new committee. What kind of ‘equality’ is it going

Sporting spectacles to look forward to in lockdown

‘At least there’s sport,’ said the woman in the supermarket queue. True enough, and in a welcome sop to an embattled world elite sport has largely been saved from the wreckage of second lockdowns around the globe, leaving a great deal to look forward to and argue about. 1. The much-delayed US Masters — will Bryson DeChambeau, the American built like a brick outhouse, pummel Augusta National into submission like a pitch and putt on Bognor seafront? The Augusta committee won’t want that and will have set the course up to stop him. Should be a compelling spectacle, though I rather fancy the ever-consistent Spaniard Jon Rahm, the one-time world

Short and sweet: Xstabeth, by David Keenan, reviewed

Aneliya, the Russian narrator of David Keenan’s enjoyably weird new novel, is worried about her dad. Tomasz’s modest music career is coming to an end; his wife left him years ago, and he lives in the shadow of his louche and much more successful best friend Jaco. ‘The famouser musician’ pulls some strings to get Tomasz one last gig, as a favour to Aneliya, with whom he is having a secret affair. Tomasz has a stinker in front of 20 people. An audio sample from his performance subsequently turns up on an obscure LP released under the mysterious moniker Xstabeth. The track is hailed in underground circles as a work